Here are the first conclusions from the “Babchenko case”.
The situation with prevented assassination attempt at Russian journalist Arkadiy Babchenko has been commented on air for Belsat literally in two hours after his miraculous “resurrection” by Editor-in-Chief of the website Charter97.org Natallia Radzina and journalist from Russia Masha Makarova.
- Let us return to the topic connected with the man who shocked the public twice in less than a day. This is the story of the Russian journalist Arkadiy Babchenko, who was reported by Kyiv to have been killed on May 29, shot in the back, at the entrance to his apartment. Yesterday it became known it didn’t happen, he is alive. Let us talk about this today in the “Hot Comment” with my colleagues. We are welcoming in our studio today Natallia Radzina, the Editor-in-Chief of the Charter97.org portal, and Masha Makarova, the journalist of Belsat.
I’d like to ask about your reaction. This is not the first time we have to talk about the murders of our close people, friends, colleagues. What is your reaction today?
Natallia Radzina: Of course this is joy in the first place. An incredible joy. However, as I wrote today on Facebook – I could have heard a heart attack of these swings, from grief to happiness. Because, truly, the people went through a lot these days, grief affected a huge number of people all around the globe. We too often face deaths, killings of our colleagues, we recently lost Pavel Sheremet, Boris Nemtsov. Earlier, in Belarus – Aleh Biabenin, Dzmitry Zavadzki, Veranika Charkasava. Politicians, businessmen were also killed in our country. This yet another “death” shocked, and when we found out he was alive – it was great happiness. However, this state cannot be fully described, I still can’t come round. I am still in the state of a shock, and I believe many of us are.
Masha Makarova: I think that many write and say they are feeling emotionally drained, because we lacked words to speak out what we felt yesterday, and we lack words today also because, I think, this is the first such situation when a suddenly risen man appears, the one whom we buried, mourned and posted texts about him on Facebook, about how dear he was to us. However, when these emotions of joy and absence of words fade away, there really come a heap of questions to the whole situation. In journalistic terms, it seems to me that this situation is a certain kind of watershed, because we made fake-news's with which we are fighting for 24 hours. We prepared a special issue of "That's it" today about the death of Babchenko and changed it just before the release, because suddenly it turned out that Babchenko is alive and we, the journalists, fed our viewers and listeners with news that had nothing to do with reality, made by journalist Babchenko as well. And this is a very important issue.
- A whole bunch of themes may be raised here. This is a very important issue indeed, I don’t know whether it is the first or not, but listen, it was a global, grand scale of manipulating public opinion through manipulating independent journalists.
Natallia Radzina: Of course this was manipulation, and there are many questions to Ukraine’s special services. Was it acceptable to treat people’s feelings like this? The point is different though. Let us discuss that today journalists are under threat indeed, they die. What is happening with journalism in Russia, and what is happening with journalism in Belarus? How many unsolved murders are happening by order, also in Russia and Ukraine?
Of course, this staging wasn’t an act of high morality. Is the remedy justified by the aim? Probably. But I think we need to figure out the situation precisely – what was it? Was there such an urgent need to conduct this special operation exactly this way? I think the answers to these questions will be found. There’s normal journalism in Ukraine after all. There are strong journalists-investigators there, and powerful civil society. We at the moment have practically no information about what really happened there.
- Now there’s another issue. Imagine new information comes – should it be trusted or not?
Natallia Radzina: It should be investigated. It will be very interesting now. It will be needed to see what it was, who was that instigator from Russia, or whether he was from Russia at all, and how it all happened. I repeat: I think it is possible in today’s Ukraine to figure out, what it was and what it was done for.
Masha Makarova: The Reporters without Borders already called this entire SBU action unethical and claimed that this is a new instrument in the informational war. And that journalist Arkadiy Babchenko himself, and the secret services of Ukraine joined this informational war, took part in it. Truly, I would like to hear more answers and receive more information from Ukraine’s special services with regard to whether this live-lure was justified, in case of Babchenko, whom they caught, what they solved, and whether it was worth it to pay this huge price of psychic sanity of Babchenko’s children, wife and friends, who “buried” a close person.
I think about another important moment which was voiced during that press-conference. Someone asked a question about the case of Pavel Sheremet and how the investigation went. The SBU officers replied that the discussion of Pavel Sheremet’s murder was not on the agenda of this press-conference. The journalists conducted their own investigation and established it was necessary to interrogate the SBU officers, or people connected with the SBU, and on this everything stopped. It’s more important to receive answers to these questions now.
Natallia Radzina: Yes, there was such a euphoria. Many said it was a brilliant operation by the Ukrainian special services, but I think we will praise the Ukrainian special services for the good work after the case of Pavel Sheremet’s murder is properly investigated, as well as other notorious killings in Kyiv. Because, Russian deputies, and representatives of Ukraine’ special services were murdered there.
- I don’t want to put shadow on it, but I can’t get rid of the impression that it was, at least to a certain extent, a PR action, to show that the SBU is working, so it was done, at least partially, on such a scale to lift the accusations from the SBU that they don’t do their job.
Natallia Radzina: Yes, we can recall the “Sukharenko rats” here. I think that everything can be on the eve of the presidential and parliamentary elections. But, do you really not admit that Russia could order the murder of Babchenko? I am convinced that it could.
Because this is an honest, uncompromising journalist who was dangerous for the regime of Putin, who called things by their own names.
- Still, when all these emotions pass, this shock will wear off, will the facts remain? Who will raise them? Will it now be the mission of the civil society, the journalists, or should it be demanded from the Ukrainian authorities when it comes to the investigation of Pavel Sheremet’s case, or the situation inside and outside Russia, being aware of all these murders, organized by the Kremlin with its long arms?
Natallia Radzina: Let’s stick to the order. Today people are really happy, people rejoice that their favorite journalist, whom they are happy to read, whom they admire, is alive, and this is probably the main thing today. And then people will naturally ask questions. And really, we need to understand what it was, what it was for. And continue to discuss what is happening to journalists in the post-Soviet space. What happens to journalists in Belarus, in Russia, in Ukraine. Because look at Belarus: we have our own dead journalists, we have Charter’97 today, we have a draconian law on the media, Belsat journalists are blocked every day and no one is immune from killings starting here again. And we must discuss this. What is happening in Russia? Yesterday, many quoted Arkadiy Babchenko's saying about journalism: "Today, the media which try to be media in a situation where media are impossible, look ridiculous." The problems of censorship, self-censorship are huge, as in Russia, as in Belarus. Everything that Babchenko wrote and writes is also relevant for our country.
- There’s an interesting moment about the problem of journalists in these countries - Belarus, Russia, Ukraine. Much was said and is still periodically said, and Arkadiy Babchenko said this, when he left, about the threats that he was receiving. But everything reminds us of the situation when you keep telling someone about a threat, about problems, and you are not heard, and you are in despair saying: you do not have enough deaths, you need someone else to die? To get to you. Can this situation, which happened with Arkadiy Babchenko become this click in the forehead, that something is moved from a dead center, to reach out.
Masha Makarova: Unfortunately, I'm pessimistic about this. I don’t think so. Because we said yesterday that there are no words, the journalist was horribly killed, we should not be afraid, be solidary and continue to work. And in fact, everyone is ready for the fact that yesterday's murder of Arkadiy Babchenko will not be the last. That this is yet another point and that after it there will be more points, more repressions against journalists. I will add, what happened yesterday and today. This is the passing of mutual allegations between Russia and Ukraine: "Yes, this is the hand of the Kremlin!" - "No, this is Russophobia!". These statements of the troubled European Parliament and the statements of journalists that they do not believe in the effectiveness of the investigation and will conduct independent investigations very well showed the situation in which we live. Everything ended well, but journalists themselves must investigate the murders of their colleagues to see at least some piece of truth.
Natallia Radzina: It is quite clear that there will be no change if the authorities are not replaced. The root of the problems today is dictatorial regimes. This is Lukashenka's regime in Belarus. And this is Putin's regime in Russia. Of course, today everyone (not just politicians and journalists concerned) needs to fight for the freedom of their countries. Because if we do not fight, they will kill us. A free country is a guarantee of a journalist’s life. Only in a free country we will be able to work freely and fulfill our professional duties, we will not be blocked, will not be killed or arrested.
- I read an identical comment on Charter, as soon as the murder of Arkadiy Babchenko was reported. I don’t remember who said this, somebody from Russia. You should remember, I think. Someone said: “I don’t know what needs to be done, but something needs to be done.”
Natallia Radzina: Grigoriy Pasko said this.
- Grigoriy Pasko. And what to do?
Natallia Radzina: Fight, guys, fight!
Masha Makarova: Be a good journalist.
Natallia Radzina: It is possible, Masha, to be a good journalist in a normal democratic country. Because, being a good journalist in Belarus today means working for Belsat or Charter from Warsaw. Because, in Belarus, you could be arrested and you would not be able to perform your professional duties, you would have to not tell everything and ignore many facts. This refers to Russia as well.
Masha Makarova: I disagree. Grigoriy Pasko is a good example of this. Grigoriy Pasko, who was jailed under a fabricated spy case, continues, despite this, despite the terrible pressure from the Russian secret services to develop independent and investigative journalism. And investigative journalists in Russia face the threat of murder, this is absolutely normal, everyone knows about it. He continues to do his own business. You can be a publicist like Babchenko, but you can be a journalist like Grigoriy Pasko. This is absolutely two different hypostases.
Natallia Radzina: Of course, Grigoriy is a very brave and talented person, but unfortunately, he is going to leave for Europe himself now, because he admits (I know him well, we are friends), that it is impossible to conduct journalist investigations in Russia today.
Masha Makarova: Herein, they are being conducted, and I think there still remain the journalists who are ready to risk, also risk their loves, to do the journalist work of the highest quality.
Natallia Radzina: Of course, the heroes always stay, but let's look at things realistically. Because pathos is good, but the reality is that today it is almost impossible to be a journalist within a dictatorial country. A free, independent, normal journalist.
I admire the people who are doing today and try to do everything possible in Russia and Belarus, in these inhuman conditions. But these journalists understand and we see today that they are forced to not talk much, they are forced not to cover a huge number of topics.
Do you understand? This is what Babchenko wrote. Well, how could you give serious news in Russia about Putin's re-election? As Arkadiy said, an honest media which will say: "Everything remains the same in Mordor" will be the most popular in Russia.
Masha Makarova: I think it is extremely important, in order to keep the normality and the feeling that we have not gone insane, is to stick to the standards as we will have to return to them sooner or later anyway. And exactly those journalists who do not sink to publicism, to writing emotional posts on Facebook instead of sticking to news journalism, help to do this.
Natallia Radzina: Publicism is a genre of journalism.
Valer Ruselik: This is just one last question I’d like to ask. In your opinion, temporary retreat from the canon of journalism or certain genres, temporary emigration – is it a step forward or positioning for the time of a war, a forced measure?
Natallia Radzina: Forced emigration? Taking my case, I was forced to emigrate, because I understood that I would not be able to work in Belarus. I'll just be on a short leash of the special services, because they tried to force me to sign papers on cooperation with the KGB in the KGB pre-trial detention center. I refused to do it. When I tried to work after my release from prison, I was detained every time after any sharp material that the authorities did not like. I was constantly told: "Ms. Radzina, you can work, but work on our terms." And I did not want to work on their terms. Therefore, emigration in this case, work from Poland - this is the only opportunity today to convey the truth about what is happening. And the ratings of the Charter97.org website, which is more popular today than other independent media in Belarus, even in the blocked form, prove this. The fact that work without self-censorship, the ability to call things by their proper names, is what people need. People want the truth.